Skip to Content

10 Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make with Your Indoor Herb Garden

A collage of unhealthy basil and the mistakes of growing herbs.

Growing herbs indoors is a lovely hobby that can be relaxing and soothing. Even if you do not live in a place where you can grow giant beds of herbs outside, you can still enjoy growing them in various containers in your home.

Additionally, you can use your herbs to flavor dishes as you cook. If you have never grown herbs indoors before, here are ten mistakes that you definitely do not want to make. 

1. Not providing enough sunlight for your herbs.

Herbs in pot on low light area.

This is the biggest mistake that most beginning indoor herb gardeners make. Many of the most popular herbs are considered “full sun” herbs. This category includes popular herbs like basil, rosemary, and dill.

These plants need six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day, which you can supply by putting them in a south or southwest-facing window during the spring and fall. Otherwise, you will need to provide a supplemental grow light for your herbs to grow well. 

Other herbs, like cilantro, mint, and parsley need four to six hours of sunlight per day. They will do better and produce more leaves if you give them more sunlight, but they can make it at lower light levels.

If you don’t give your herbs enough light, they will grow weak and spindly. Gardeners say that plants that grow in this manner are leggy. Don’t make the mistake of not providing enough sunlight for your herbs. Research what your plants need.

2. Not pruning your herbs.

It’s not just trees and shrubs that need pruning. Herbs often need pruning too. Pruning your herbs will keep them growing full and bushy with lots of leaves that you can harvest for your kitchen. Every time that you prune your herb plant, it will put out new growth, often generating two new branches at each point where you snipped it. 

Tender herbs like basil and cilantro need pruning throughout the growing season, while woody herbs like rosemary and thyme only need to be pruned once per year, in the spring or the fall. 

3. Letting your herbs flower.

Basil plant with purple flower buds.

Herbaceous or tender herbs are annual plants that generally complete their growth cycle over a period of four to six months. Their goal is to grow, produce flowers, make seeds, and eventually, die. Your goal is to use the flavorful leaves to make delicious foods in your kitchen. You can keep your plants providing their leaves for your use for months by snipping them back every so often.

If you see the herb plants starting to form flowers at the tip of the stem, you should break or cut the flowers off before the buds open. Once the flowers open, the leaves of the herb will start to get bitter in flavor. Not only that, the plant will start to try to make seeds, and after it makes seeds, it will eventually die.

4. Starting only from seeds.

Many people who start herb gardening begin with several pots and a few seed packets.  This is an inexpensive way to begin and you can buy multiple varieties of herbs for the cost of a single potted plant. This isn’t the worst thing that you can do, but it will be slow going if you try to grow all of your herbs from seeds.

You can get a head start on your herb garden by purchasing potted herbs from the garden center or even the grocery store. These potted plants will give you instant gratification, and you won’t have to wait for seeds to sprout and grow large enough to provide herbs for your kitchen.

You may want to do a little of both–buy some potted plants as well as start some plants from seeds. By the time that your seedlings have reached maturity, the potted herbs may be nearing the end of their lives and you can replace them with the seedlings that you have been nurturing.

Additionally, you may be able to take cuttings from some of your existing mature plants and generate new herb plants for your indoor herb garden.

5. Not providing enough drainage.

Herb plants in metal pots.

Most herbs are native to areas that are a little dry, and for this reason they are very averse to soggy soils. In fact, they do not do well in soil that has inadequate drainage and they may even develop issues like root rot or fungal diseases if they do not have the correct amount of drainage.

All pots in which you plan to grow herbs must have a few drainage holes where excess water can drip out. Additionally, putting some gravel at the bottom of each pot will ensure that the pot’s drainage holes will not get clogged. If you use a drip pan to catch extra water, you should empty it every time that you water so that the herbs will not be sitting in water. 

6. Crowding your herbs.

In home and garden magazines, photos abound of large pots with multiple varieties of herbs in a single pot. These pots are overflowing with luscious foliage.  If you love the look of these gorgeous pots, you may want to mimic the same idea.

However, you should use caution when you start planting a large pot with smaller plants. Those expertly designed and photographed multi-herb pots didn’t start out so full and bushy. In fact, they are likely only photographed at peak growing season after having grown for a month or two. 

If you want to plant multiple varieties of herbs in the same pot, carefully read the labels that come with your herb seedlings. Be sure to account for the final growth size of your herbs.

If you try to crowd the pot, eventually the herbs will begin to grow scraggly and become weak because there will not be enough space, water, and nutrients to sustain all of them. Of course, to start out with, your multi-herb planting may look sparse, but if you take care of them, your herbs will eventually grow full and lush and fill your pot to overflowing.

7. Watering incorrectly.

A gardener watering heavily on herbs in pots.

In general, herbs do not need tons of water and you should only water them when the soil feels dry to the touch. Poke your finger into the dirt about an inch deep. If the soil is moist, do not water, and if the soil is dry, give your plants a drink.

You should research the herbs that you have to make sure that you are not watering them too much or too little.  As a rule of thumb, it is better to under-water than to over water. Over the course of the growing season, you will develop a rhythm for when you need to water your herbs if you pay attention.

8. Growing herbs that you won’t use.

There is a wide world of various herbs and you may be anxious to try them all. However, when you are growing your herbs indoors, you have to be discerning about which herbs that you choose to grow. You may not have the space to try everything that you might like to try, so choose herbs that you already know and use in the kitchen for the most part. 

There is a time for adventurous herb gardening, but there’s nothing worse than having a whole pot of cilantro taking up space on your windowsill when nobody in the house eats cilantro. You should look through your jars of existing herbs in your pantry and choose herbs that you reach for over and over again as you cook.

Basil, oregano, thyme, and rosemary are common herbs that almost everyone uses in the kitchen. If you want to try something different, choose only one or two new varieties each growing season.

9. Not providing adequate fertility.

Shallow shot of unhealthy basil plant in pot.

Many herbs do grow well in poor soils, but they do need some nourishment in the form of fertilizer to grow well. The easiest thing to do with potted herbs is to water them once every two weeks with a water soluble fertilizer like Miracle Grow.

However, when you fertilize herbs, more is not necessarily better. If you overdo it, the plant may put out tons of new growth but the leaves may not have the tasty flavor oils which is the main reason that you want to grow the herbs. 

10. Choosing the wrong sized pots.

If you buy potted herbs or you are starting seedlings from seeds, you have to look ahead to the mature size of your herb instead of the size that it is right now. If you are using seed packets, carefully read the back of them to ensure that your pot is the correct size.

If you are using a potted herb, read the tag and plant your herb in a pot that will allow it to grow well.  Herbs that are grown in a pot that is too small will never reach their full size because their roots will be starved for nourishment and space. 

Growing herbs in your home is a pleasurable activity that even those without a green thumb can learn to do. Just pay attention to the points that we made and soon your containers will be overflowing with gorgeous plants and your kitchen will fill with the fragrant smells of fresh herbal recipes.